Facilities – Wind Power Project
In this decision, the AUC considered whether to approve applications from Pattern Development Lanfine Wind ULC (“Pattern”) requesting approval to construct and operate the power plant and substations, collectively designated as the Lanfine Wind Power Project (the “Project”). The AUC found that approval of the Project was in the public interest having regard to the social, economic, and other effects of the project, including its effect on the environment.
On January 11, 2019, Pattern submitted applications for the Project. The applications were subsequently amended to reflect a revised anticipated in-service date and to remove one turbine (T19). The Project would consist of 78 Vestas turbines, each rated at 3.6 megawatts (“MW”). Pattern proposed to construct the project in two phases; Lanfine North would consist of 41 turbines for a total generating capability of 147.6 MW while Lanfine South would consist of 37 turbines for a total generating capability of 133.2 MW. The total project size would be 280.8 MW. Pattern also proposed two substations; Buffalo Bird 601S Substation, located on the southwest quarter of Section 19, Township 27, Range 4, west of the Fourth Meridian, for Lanfine North, and Nighthawk Substation, located on the northeast quarter of Section 8, Township 26, Range 3, west of the Fourth Meridian, for Lanfine South.
Section 17 of the AUC Act required the AUC to assess whether the project was in the public interest, having regard to its social, economic, environmental and other effects. In doing so, the AUC considered various factors set out under each of the headings that follow.
The primary noise-related issue was whether it was reasonable for Pattern to use an assumed nighttime ambient sound level (“ASL”) of 35 dBA (as provided in Table 1 of Rule 012: Noise Control) when calculating the nighttime permissible sound level (“PSL”) at various receptors in the project area.
The AUC found that, based on the presence of agricultural and oil and gas activities in the project area, it was reasonable for Pattern to rely on the assumed values of Table 1 of Rule 012 when preparing its noise impact assessment (“NIA”). This assumption was validated by the evidence of all parties confirming the existence of agricultural and oil and gas activities throughout the Project area. Further, the ambient monitoring results filed by the Oyen Landowners Group did not demonstrate that the Project area contained features or characteristics that materially distinguished it from other parts of rural Alberta, where agricultural and oil and gas activities take place. The AUC, therefore, found that a departure from the assumed values of Table 1 of Rule 012 was not warranted and that it was reasonable for Pattern to conclude the assumed ASLs based on Table 1 of Rule 012 were representative of the project area.
The AUC also found that the Project NIA met the technical requirements of Rule 012.
Although the project NIA predicted compliance with Rule 012 PSLs at all receptors, given the concerns raised by the Oyen Landowners Group and the fact that the predicted sound levels were close to the nighttime PSL at a number of receptors, the AUC required Pattern to complete a post-construction comprehensive sound level survey to verify compliance with Rule 012 once the project commenced operation.
The AUC considered the evidence on the record of this proceeding in assessing the environmental effects of the Project, including the evidence of the environmental consultants, various commitments made by Pattern, the mitigation and monitoring plans established in consultation with Alberta Environment and Parks (“AEP”), and the Project’s adherence to applicable regulatory standards, directives and guidelines.
Overall, the AUC was satisfied that Pattern’s approach to siting, specifically, the siting of a large portion of project infrastructure on cultivated lands and tame pasture, would significantly mitigate the Project’s potential effects on environmentally significant areas (“ESAs”), native grasslands and wetlands. With the diligent application of Pattern’s proposed mitigations, the potential residual adverse effects on ESAs, native grasslands and wetlands from construction and operation of the project could be reasonably mitigated.
Issues were raised in this proceeding concerning the high risk of bat mortality, the sufficiency of the bat surveys undertaken by Pattern and the proposed mitigation measures. The AUC found that Pattern’s proposed mitigation measures relative to bats were generally consistent with industry practice and the requirements of the Wildlife Directive for Alberta Wind Energy Projects and Bat Mitigation Framework for Wind Power Development, and the recommendations of AEP. However, given the very high level of bat activity in the Project area and the corresponding high risk of bat mortality from operation of the Project, the AUC imposed various conditions of approval to address the risk of bat mortality.
The AUC also imposed as a condition of approval that Pattern abide by all of the commitments and recommendations included in its final Construction and Operation Mitigation Plan (the “Plan”), implement all mitigation measures identified in the Plan and monitor the effectiveness of its mitigation measures. If mitigation measures are unsuccessful, Pattern, in consultation with AEP, must develop and implement additional mitigation to minimize adverse effects on the environment. With the diligent application of Pattern’s proposed mitigations and adherence to the conditions of approval imposed by this decision, the AUC was satisfied that the potential adverse effects of the Project on wildlife and bats, in particular, could be reasonably mitigated.
Other identified concerns
The Oyen Landowners Group identified other concerns with the Project. It raised concerns about improper consultation, the disruption of the rural environment, damage to underground springs, visual effects, decreased property value and health effects.
The AUC found that the Participant Involvement Program (the “PIP”) for the project was developed and conducted per the regulatory requirements of Rule 007. The AUC was also satisfied that through the PIP, stakeholders were provided with the opportunity to understand the Project, voice their concerns and have those concerns addressed where feasible, thereby satisfying the purpose of consultation and Rule 007 requirements.
The AUC was also satisfied that Pattern was aware of and acknowledged the potential effect of the Project on water wells and groundwater in the area and has taken appropriate actions to evaluate and address these concerns.
The AUC found that specialized expertise and evidence is required for the AUC to conclude that a given project will have an adverse effect on land and property values. No property value evidence specific to this project was submitted, nor was any expert available for cross-examination on the topic.
While the AUC was not satisfied that the visual effect of the Project was prohibitive in and of itself, it is one of the factors the AUC considered in making its overall public interest determination for the Project.
The AUC found that specialized expertise and evidence is required for the AUC to conclude that a project will have an adverse effect on human health. No such evidence was presented, and accordingly, the AUC was unable to make any findings related to this potential impact.
Subject to the conditions set out by the AUC in this decision, the AUC found that Pattern satisfied the requirements of Rule 007 and Rule 012. The AUC found that the negative effects of the Project, which included social impacts, visual impacts, noise impacts and impacts on the environment, can be mitigated to an acceptable degree. In accordance with section 17 of the AUC Act, the AUC approved the Project as in the public interest having regard to its social, economic, and other effects, including its effect on the environment.